Tiger Woods will tee off today at St. Andrews chasing his third straight British Open win at the “Home of Golf.”
Woods won the oldest major championship, in its 150th year, in 2000 and 2005 at St. Andrews and is the 6-1 favorite at U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc to make it a hat-trick at the Old Course. He also triumphed at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
“I understand how to play this golf course,” 14-time major winner Woods said at a news conference two days ago. “I’ve done well two out of the three times I’ve played here so that’s kind of how I look at it.”
Woods won by a combined 13 shots in 2000 and 2005 and has called St. Andrews his favorite course. The 34-year-old was 11-under par for the first two rounds in both his victories at the venue, which is located north-east of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. He went on to win by eight shots in 2000 and posted a five-stroke victory in 2005.
Woods, who last won a major at the 2008 U.S. Open, tees off at 9:09 a.m. local time with England’s Justin Rose, a two-time winner on the U.S. PGA Tour this year, and Colombia’s Camilo Villegas.
Play began at 6:30 a.m. under gray clouds with little wind. Rain is forecast for late morning before skies clear in the afternoon, according to the U.K. Met Office.
Rose is one of seven players ranked in the top 20 in the world who are looking to become the first British winner of the tournament since Paul Lawrie of Scotland at Carnoustie in 1999.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is second favorite to win at 16-1, Rose is 21-1, world No. 3 Lee Westwood is 22-1, Ian Poulter is 28-1, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald are 35-1, and Paul Casey is 46-1.
Woods has failed to win any of the six tournaments he’s played in this year, his worst performance since 1998, when he won in his ninth event.
Woods tied for fourth in this season’s first two majors -- at last month’s U.S. Open and at the Masters Tournament in April in his return to competitive golf after a five-month absence. He comes to St. Andrews after failing to break par in any round at the AT&T National two weeks ago, the first time he’s done that outside the majors in 11 years. He also missed a cut this season and withdrew from an event with a neck injury.
None of that matters when you put Woods and the Old Course together, said 2002 British Open champion Ernie Els, the fourth favorite to win at 18-1.
“He’ll be a factor because of the width you have here,” Els, 40, told reporters. “You’ve got room to play with. He knows how to play the course.”
Double Greens, Fairways
A quirk of the Old Course is that some fairways and greens are shared between two holes. That doesn’t mean players have a green light to blast the ball from the tees, Woods said.
“This golf course requires placement,” he said. “Just because it’s wide off the tees doesn’t mean you can blow it all over the place. You have to hit the ball in the correct spots. And the two years that I’ve played well here, I’ve done that. I’ve managed my game really well.”
Woods, who was eliminated after two rounds at Turnberry last year, is switching putters for the first time in 11 years to combat the slower greens at St. Andrews.
He’s changing to a Nike Method model from the Titleist Scotty Cameron putter he used to win 13 majors since 1999. As a result, all of the clubs in his bag will now be Nike.
In addition to a 15th major title and fourth British Open win, Woods’s 226-week stay atop the Official World Golf Ranking is at stake.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson, the 17-1 second favorite at William Hill, can become No. 1 for the first time with a win or by finishing as low as fourth, depending on the performance of Woods, who has been the top-ranked player for 608 weeks over his career.
While 40-year-old left-hander Mickelson has never won the British Open, he tied for sixth place in 2005 and 11th in 2000 at St. Andrews.
“I expect to play well here, I really do,” the four-time major winner said at a news conference. “It would be great to get that ranking, but what I care more about right now is trying to win the Open Championship.”
Mickelson tees off at 2:20 p.m. with Colin Montgomerie, the Scot who finished second behind Woods in 2005, and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa.
Mickelson expects Woods to be among the leaders on the final day.
“He will be in contention on Sunday, I don’t know how anybody can question that,” he said. “He’s gutted out two fourth-place finishes in majors, being in contention when he probably didn’t have his best stuff, and this course sets up well for him.”